Ideas have consequences. When the Church, for example, teaches that God is in control of all events, what then are we supposed to think when the rain turns to floods that turn into the unleashing of enormous suffering and anguish? What kind of God unleashes floods upon us?
When the Church teaches that God is love and love forgives the sinner, what then happens when a woman shows up at a pastor’s office with bruises on her face because her husband beat her up again? Should the pastor tell her about the forgiving love of God, and therefore she ought also to go home and simply forgive?
When the Church teaches that God favors and blesses those who follow God’s will and way, what are we to think of those who stumble out of life’s mainstream? What then are we to think of the homeless and the poor, the economic refugees of global capitalism? Do they deserve their plight?
Ideas have consequences. These consequences are both personal and political. The ideas taught by our spiritual faith communities shape our thoughts, attitudes and behaviors. Our spiritual ideas shape our personal character. They also shape our political practice. Who we vote for, what we are willing to fund, how we relate to our neighbors in need are all influenced through the filter of our spiritual ideas.
Christmas is a great time for Christians to re-think their ideas and assumptions about life. At the center of the Christian story is a family with no roof over its heads, few assets to its name, oppressed by an occupying imperial army, and beholden to the mercies of others. For Christians, this is how God enters the world.
What then are the characteristics and politics of a people who are shaped by such a story? One would assume that they would go out of their way to provide a roof over every head, health care for every family, resistance to the ways of empire, and a freely given generosity to those who are in need. One would think that such a people would build sanctuaries that not only provided worship space but also living space, shelter from the floods of life, help in time of need.
Thankfully, many Christian churches do this very thing. Inside of hundreds of church buildings there are shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens for the hungry, counseling for those in anguish, community support that welcomes the isolated and lonely, and public advocacy that relieves the burden of economic refugees. Inside of many church buildings one can catch a glimpse of the world as it should be: a world of neighbor helping neighbor, a world where God is felt through human touch, the consequence of the Christmas idea of incarnation, and the true meaning of worship.